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EEOC files first lawsuits alleging sexual orientation discrimination

As we've discussed before, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their sex, race, color, religion and national origin. One prohibition that is perhaps conspicuously absent from this important list, however, is sexual orientation.

Indeed, in addition to this omission from the Civil Rights Act, there is currently no federal statute expressly banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, such that the measure of civil rights protection afforded to gay and lesbian workers would appear virtually nonexistent. 

As unfortunate as this reality is, we may finally be on the precipice of real change.

That's because the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made history earlier this week when it filed the first ever lawsuits against private employers alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The lawsuits were filed in federal courts on behalf of two employees who were allegedly subjected to the following discriminatory actions:

  • A lesbian employee who worked as a forklift operator at a Baltimore-based pallet company was routinely harassed by a supervisor regarding her sexual orientation (inappropriate comments, offensive actions) and ultimately fired after complaining.
  • A gay employee who worked at a Pittsburgh-based health clinic was routinely harassed by a manager regarding his sexual orientation (epithets, inappropriate comments) and ultimately quit after his complaints went ignored.

"With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation," read a statement from the EEOC's general counsel.

According to legal experts, courts have long recognized discrimination based on gender stereotyping and the EEOC is essentially seeking to expand this recognition to include sexual orientation.

It's worth noting that in addition to the absence of a federal statute outlawing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, many states -- including Florida -- have no such measure on the books.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you believe that you have been victimized by discriminatory practices on the part of your employer, please consider speaking with a proven legal professional as soon as possible. Together, you can examine what happened and, if necessary, pursue the justice you deserve.

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